Japanese Pavilion – 55th Biennale di Venezia. June 1st – November 24th 2013

Japanese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale
May 23, 2013 3:41PM

ArtistKoki Tanaka 

Exhibition title: abstract speaking  - sharing uncertainty and collective act

Curator: Mika Kuraya 

Organizer: The Japan Foundation

Venue: Giardini della Biennale

The installation in the Japan Pavilion will probably come across as rather desultory: pillows and flashlights, books, jars and more, placed here and there, with glimpses of photographs and video footage in between. The log pillars and stools are a partial recycling of those used for Architecture. Possible Here?, Japan's entry in the 13th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2012. Near the entrance, staff overseeing the pavilion display go about their business at a worktable. Thus the photos and videos that would ordinarily occupy center stage as the “works” slip among the furniture and everyday items (the actual objects that appear in the photos and videos), and the staff, as items of equivalent standing.

In recent years Koki Tanaka has employed a variety of methods to produce works on the relationality that arises between human beings. For these works, he either 1) sets a specific group a certain task and videos their collaboration, or 2) does something with somebody based on an idea not yet completely formed, and records this in photos and text.

Nine hairdressers cutting the hair of one person, five musicians composing on a single piano, five poets writing a single poem, multiple ceramicists producing a single item of pottery—these fall under 1), video footage. In them, it is possible to see the process of people of the same occupation, employing a common language that only they understand, clashing with each other, reaching consensus, and so on (incidentally the driving force behind this process is the question of the division of space between the participants, almost a formal matter). On the other hand, belonging to 2) are what Tanaka calls “collective acts”: experiments of various sorts still lacking a fixed destination, such as talking about one's own name whileeating emergency rations, and walking in a large group around the nighttime streets, flashlights in hand. 

On 11 March 2011, Japan experienced a massive earthquake and tsunami, plus an accident at a nuclear power plant. Two years on, the situation still remains unresolved, an issue that Japanese artists continue to engage with in various forms. Architecture. Possible Here?, presenting a plan to build a house for residents of a town hit by the disaster, was one direct manifestation of this engagement. By reusing part of that exhibition site, Tanaka is attempting to address the same issue, but in a slightly more abstract fashion.

For example, a haircut by 9 hairdressers at once (second attempt) (2010) was shot before the earthquake. But to those of us in Japan now, having gone through such a definitive experience, it seems a metaphor for working together to build a post-quake society. Or take the footage of people going up and down a fire escape with a book in one hand: this recalls the experience of evacuating, and has the feel of an anti-nuclear power gesture (in the sense of rejecting the consumption of electricity concomitant with escalators and elevators). Thus the tasks and acts—at first glance modest—set by Tanaka can be read in different ways according to the viewer's personal context. Having this quality of permitting many different readings, Tanaka's works will, at the geographically far removed Venice venue, provide a platform for the overlaying of yet more, new readings by people. In any case, on entering the Japan Pavilion, with the text “9478.57km” (indicating the distance from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to the Japan Pavilion) added unobtrusively next to the sign saying “GIAPPONE,” even if they are unaware of it, the connections between countless viewers shouldering all sorts of contexts has already begun. 

Japanese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019